The more than 14,000 people held at the Heart Mountain Internment Camp near Cody showed an amazing ability to support their country despite the fact it imprisoned them, newscaster Tom Brokaw said at the camp last weekend.
Brokaw, the featured guest at the annual Heart Mountain Pilgrimage, praised those incarcerated for their patriotism while held at the camp.
“You were abused and went on with your lives and make continuing contributions to this country,” he said. “You’re here because you know you’re Americans and we all learn from you. And so I say God bless.”
The Heart Mountain camp was one of 10 established across the country to house Americans of Japanese descent during World War II because of concerns they might hold allegiance to their original homeland and pose a threat to the United States.
While in operation from June 1942 to November of 1945, the camp was the third largest city in the state. During the camp’s operation, many friendships were formed, including one between former U.S. Sen. Al Simpson and Norm Mineta, former secretary for the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Appearing with Simpson during the pilgrimage, Mineta recalled the sadness he felt when his government imprisoned an entire race of people.
“These placards went up,” Mineta said. “Instructions to all those of Japanese ancestry. Aliens and non-aliens. And I was a 10-yar-old kid and I saw that placard. And I said to my brother who was nine years older, I said ‘Al, what’s a non-alien?’ He said ‘That’s you.’ And I said ‘I’m not a non-alien, I’m a citizen!”
For the past eight years, the Heart Mountain Foundation has organized the pilgrimage to the camp as a commemoration to those held there.
Shirley Ann Higuchi, the foundation’s chair, said Wyoming communities have been very supportive of the foundation’s efforts to preserve the memory of the injustice done to the families held at the camp.
“They have come around to really support us and really make us the best that we can be,” she said. “So it’s just an overwhelmingly emotional, touching, in many ways a heartbreaking experience when we try to think back historically on how many people had actually suffered here.”
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